ZURIK: Crime watchdog says Officer Vappie’s punishments too lenient
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The head of a New Orleans crime watch group calls an investigation into a former member of the mayor’s security team “flawed” and “incomplete.”
The New Orleans Police Department’s Public Integrity Bureau (PIB) launched an investigation into Officer Jeffrey Vappie in late 2022 amid a series of FOX 8 investigations. FOX 8 showed Vappie spent long hours inside a city-owned apartment with Mayor LaToya Cantrell. His timesheets showed he often billed taxpayers while spending time inside the apartment.
The NOPD investigation found Vappie violated three department policies involving professional conduct and performance of duty. The investigation found Vappie clocked more hours than he was allowed to in a 24-hour period, violated the training and ethics of the executive protection team when he spent hours alone with Mayor Cantrell outside of his regular tour of duty, and was not attentive to his duty as an Executive Protection member when he attended board meetings of the Housing Authority of New Orleans while on the clock.
FOX 8′s investigations also revealed Cantrell appointed Vappie to the HANO board. In recordings from the NOPD investigation, Vappie told investigators he attended those meetings, while on the clock for the NOPD, at the direction of the Mayor.
When it came time for sanctions, an NOPD disciplinary panel gave Vappie two letters of reprimand. The head of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, Rafael Goyeneche, says the punishment amounts to a slap on the wrist.
“I certainly don’t agree with the discipline involved in this. I think that this is a classic example of the mayor being a distraction, and because the mayor was at the epicenter of this matter, I think the police department handled this investigation differently than they would have had she not been involved in it,” Goyeneche said. “Based on this investigation, I think he should have received some suspensions.”
At an NOPD hearing regarding the investigation, every member of a five-officer panel signed off on the proposed sanctions of two letters of reprimand. That included Captain Preston Bax, Captain Precious Banks, Captain Michael Glasser, Deputy Superintendent Ryan Lubrano, and Interim Superintendent Michelle Woodfork.
Goyeneche believes comments made by Mayor Cantrell throughout the process may have influenced the NOPD’s investigation.
That included Cantrell’s response on March 22 to leaked audio tapes of the NOPD investigation when she said the investigation amounted to a “witch hunt.”
The Federal Consent Decree Monitor released a scathing report on Thursday, saying the NOPD investigation fell short, and should have looked at possible payroll fraud violations by Vappie.
In response to that report, the city filed documents defending the NOPD. On Friday, Cantrell released a statement applauding the findings of investigators.
“As they do with all matters, the Public Integrity Bureau (PIB) performed professionally and conducted a fair and thorough investigation that maintained objectivity while steering clear of unprecedented outside influences,” her statement read.
The PIB report says NOPD investigators tried to secure an interview with Mayor Cantrell as part of the investigation, but she declined. They also asked to interview former NOPD Superintendent Shaun Ferguson, and NOPD consultant Fausto Pichardo, but both declined. Vappie briefly served as Pichardo’s driver when the NOPD initially reassigned him from Cantrell’s Executive Protection Team as the investigation began.
“Those are all fact witnesses that are critically important to determine, not just the administrative violations involved, but potential criminal violations that may have been involved in this,” Goyeneche said.
The Federal Consent Decree Monitor blasted the NOPD investigation, saying it reflects a “cavalier attitude” toward the PIB’s obligations and the importance of officer accountability.
The monitor claimed PIB should have looked into potential criminal violations. However, the city scoffed at the suggestion, saying while Vappie’s actions may have looked bad and were unprofessional, it could not be proven that there was any criminal violation.
The Department of Justice agrees with the Consent Decree Monitor, filing a motion to ask whether the NOPD had made a referral for a criminal investigation of Vappie. Goyeneche says the consensus among federal investigators shows the NOPD may have fallen short.
“So, if it’s abundantly clear to all of the other parties that are involved in the consent decree that is overseeing the police department, in DOJ attorneys, and the federal monitor, independent monitor that’s appointed to this, they both flag potential criminal violations,” Goyeneche said.
Goyeneche is hopeful that other agencies will look into the potential violations.
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